Greek film ‘Apples’ explores the role of memory in human existence
Imagine a world where a global pandemic has baffled medical professionals. An epidemic that has broken families and caused untold emotional suffering. A pandemic where a cure feels far off in the distance and society is just trying to adjust to the consequences of a strange and mysterious illness. In many ways, that sounds like what the world has experienced for most of 2020 with COVID-19, but it’s also the basis for a film six years in the making, Christos Nikou’s feature debut, “Apples.”
Greece’s submission for the international film Oscar, “Apples” centers on a reality not so different from our own, where an unknown virus is causing citizens to suddenly experience permanent amnesia — a condition that can occur at any moment. In the case of Aris (Aris Servetalis), it hits a middle-aged Greek man who is awakened on a city bus, with no memory of who he is or why he was on the bus in the first place.
Without any personal ID, he’s placed in the care of doctors who spend weeks trying to trigger his brain with numerous tests and exercises as they struggle with how to care for a growing number of amnesiac patients. Eventually, they set him up in an apartment to try and reintegrate him into society by asking him to chronicle his journey by creating “new” memories.
“Everybody that has gone to the movie, they are telling us that it’s a very timely story,” Nikou says. “They can feel the elements of isolation, loneliness, uncertainty about the future and loss. It’s also a movie about collecting memory and about how we can deal with a pandemic. We are giving an optimistic approach, so I hope that the audience will feel it but will also take something from it.”
It took six years for Nikou to get “Apples” from page to screen, including three years during which he patiently waited for the Greek Film Centre, the main film fund in the country, to even respond to his submission. However, the creative seed for “Apples” was a personal one — a time when Nikou was trying to come to terms with the death of his father.
“I was trying to understand how you can arrange something that hurts you, and how selective is our memory,” Nikou says. “And if we let somebody hurt us, are we going to lose our existence? And could it be that we are the things we don’t forget? Because in a way, we are our memories. Without our memories, we are losing our existence somehow.”
The world Aris is living in, consequently, is distinctively different from our own. Nikou reveals that his passion is to watch movies such as those by Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman, ones that create unique worlds and ideas of how we can change the roots of our society. For “Apples,” Nikou has placed his tale in a contemporary setting, although one that has a more nostalgic approach: a world with no cellphones, no visible computers. There is simply nothing digital to be found.
Nikou made this creative choice, which the film subtly embraces, because he believes that the extensive use of technology has made our brains lazier. He notes, “There is no need to save something in your mind any more. You can store your data in devices. And so, technology has affected a lot of our memory. And, also, the social media has affected a lot of our memory, which is another comment that we’re trying to make with the movie.”
When Aris is instructed to create these new memories, he uses a Polaroid camera and an old-fashioned tape recorder. Nikou sees that as a thematic parallel to that of society’s current obsession with social media.
“This treatment that the main character has to follow is that when he sees something he has to imitate it, take a selfie with a Polaroid camera, then put it in an album. It’s exactly what people are doing right now in Instagram campaigns or in TikTok challenges, or on other social media platforms that they have to see something,“ Nikou suggests. “And I think that we are living in a period of time which is more about the photo than to live the moment.”
For a movie that is as deliberate and wonderfully structured as “Apples,” it does contain a unique twist that viewers may not pick up on early in the film. One of the more impressive aspects of the picture is that when it’s finally revealed, the journeys of the characters are somehow even richer and more profound.
“I hope that people will take and feel the emotions that we’d like to create for them with this moment,” Nikou says. “And that’s the main reason why we’re making movies: in order to talk to the audience and to make them feel something.”
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